Plan to convert Fremont adult school to arts space suffers a setback

A plan to turn a former adult school in midtown Sacramento into rehearsal and office space for the city’s premiere performing arts groups has hit a snag after one of those organizations abruptly withdrew from the project on Monday.

The California Musical Theatre notified city officials it would not take part in the Studio for the Performing Arts, leaving 25 percent of the project’s ongoing budget unaccounted for. The theater group did not provide an explanation for its sudden departure from the project.

The City Council has pledged $5 million to help renovate the former Fremont School for Adults on N Street into a space for the California Musical Theatre, the Sacramento Ballet and the Sacramento Region Performing Arts Alliance, a combination of the Sacramento Opera and Sacramento Philharmonic. The city’s contribution would come from the $2.5 million it generates for maintaining the Cal-EPA building next to City Hall and another $2.5 million in future loan repayments by the Crocker Art Museum.

The performing arts groups have pledged another $1.5 million to the project, as well as maintaining an annual budget of more than $250,000, city officials said.

Without the California Musical Theatre’s role in the project, city officials are scrambling to find $67,000 in annual operating income to keep the 49,000-square-foot facility going.

The City Council had been scheduled to vote next week on subleasing the facility – which the city leases from the Sacramento City Unified School District – to the arts group. That vote will likely be delayed until a replacement for the Musical Theatre is found.

Richard Rich, president of the Studios Operating Co., which is leading the project, said the city will not spend any of its $5 million allocation to the $6.5 million project until the performing arts collaborative has shown it has all the money needed to keep the project afloat.

Rich said CMT’s departure also will not affect the project’s viability. He said the Musical Theatre was not scheduled to contribute to the operating budget for the first two years and that office space slated for use by the company could now be converted to performance and rehearsal space.

“The studios will end up being a terrific arts project,” he said. “The timing of CMT’s decision is unfortunate, but in the long run, it’s something we’ll be able to absorb.”

Still, the city and the arts groups are up against a tight timeline to find a replacement. The Sacramento Ballet’s lease at its current space on K Street expires in August. “We need to be open next fall,” Rich said.

Richard Lewis, the executive producer of the Musical Theatre, said Wednesday he could only confirm that the organization had withdrawn from the performing arts studio plan. He said he could not give a reason for the departure until after he meets with City Manager John Shirey.

That meeting has not been scheduled, but Lewis said he hopes to meet with Shirey by early next week.

Shirey notified the City Council at its meeting Tuesday night that the Musical Theatre had backed out of the plan.

“That gives me pause,” he said.

Many supporters of the project had attended Tuesday’s council meeting to voice support for it. Following Shirey’s announcement, Councilwoman Angelique Ashby told those supporters, “You might want to circle the wagons a bit because you lost one of your partner tenants.”

Councilman Steve Hansen, who represents midtown, expressed optimism that a replacement for the Musical Theatre would be found and that the project would move forward.

Barbara Bonebrake, the director of the city’s Convention, Culture and Leisure Department, said other arts groups have already expressed interest in recent months in leasing space at the facility.

“There’s an opportunity here to expand (the studio project’s) purpose and look at including a broader group of performing arts organizations,” she said.

Bonebrake said the Musical Theatre has indicated it will still support the renovation of Fremont School, but that without the organization, “25 percent of your plan is suddenly out the window.”

“It’s not a death blow,” she said. “On the other hand, we’re not sure there’s the capacity of the other two partners to pick up the slack of the ongoing operations.”

However, Ron Cunningham, the co-artistic director of the Sacramento Ballet, said he was confident his group could make up the difference. He said the new space will provide the ballet with at least two more studios, allowing the group to expand its class facilities and generate thousands of dollars more each year in tuition.

“It sounds like a big deal (that CMT left the project) and it probably sends up alarms to some people,” he said. “But I’m very confident we could handle the project.”